Monday, April 29, 2013

30hr days

The night before pulling into Naknek, I could not sleep a wink. We had done a great workout in the afternoon and I guess my body decided to come out of hibernation and was too fired up for rest. I tossed and turned, watched a movie, read my book, listened to music, waiting for the sleepiness to come, to no avail. So, I got up for watch and started the day, having been away since 12:00 the days before.
I wasn't alone. Dan and Jory (AB and 2nd Mate) too had the same problem, so BREAKFAST SMORGASBORD! Around 4am, the three of us decided to bust out a "breakfast of epic proportion". I was in the pilothouse prior to our breakfast idea and we started talking about food. I brought up an earlier conversation about quiche and how our cook had never had quiche, and the chief mate says "tug boaters don't eat quiche!"... So I being one to break stereotypes, said "that's it, I'm making quiche!" Down I went and busted out one of the best quiches I've ever made. Dan and Jory busted out hash browns, gravy, bacon, Canadian bacon in maple syrup and some other goodness morning creations. We had just brought n a new chief engineer the night before (flew him in from Seattle) and I was pretty sure he was going to think we were a bunch of tweakers. We blew the galley UP and ate good. It was a good thing, because the remainder of the day was brutal and I survived solely off of the early caloric implosion.
We got our call-out at 4:30 and started our approach to Naknek. About 2 hours later, we tied up to the dock and began un-lashing cargo at 7:30 am. We cut out for lunch at 12 and I did manage to close my eyes in my rack for about 20 minutes after eating, but then right back into cargo till about 16:30.
After that, I showered, grabbed 1.5 hours of sleep and then went back out for 2 more hours to finalize a total of 11 hours of cargo time for the day. I essentially (with the exception of my 20 minute siesta) went 30 hours without sleep and busted out a back-aching 11 hours of dragging chains and turnbuckles. At $20/hr (our cargo pay rate), I wasn't complaining too much, but it still hurt quite a bit and I'm ready for some serious rack time. I'm up right now, standing a 2-4am security watch, but then planning to rack-out for as long as possible after this... Skipping any "breakfasts of epic proportion".

A 6-pack for my birthday?

About 3-4 years ago, Erin gave me a piece of paper for my birthday. It was a printed course description for a Captains License course, commonly referred to as a "6-pack". A 6-pack is the first level of commercial licensing with the Coast Guard and is essentially a license that allows you to take up to 6 people out on a boat for hire. This license is what most people get when they want to start doing small charters on their vessel. I was super stoked that not only did Erin recognize my desire to be on the water, but that she saw some value in it for me and/or us. Unfortunately, after looking into it, I found that I lacked "recency" with regards to my sea-time. In order to take the course and exam, you have to have at least 90 days of sea-time within the last 3 years. Even though I had been sailing my small sailboat quite a bit, it wasn't enough to qualify. I was bummed, but it got me thinking about other things that I might be able to do instead that would give me formal water-based training.

After searching the Internet and learning about the various training programs out there, I came across the Certifications offered by the ASA (American Sailing Association) and the Bareboat Charter Certification course in particular. It's not a license, but merely a certification that deems you worthy of chartering/renting out a boat anywhere in the world. The certification consists of 3, 3-day courses, starting with Basic Sailing and ending with Coast Cruising and an overnight trip. I then did some more research and found an upcoming Course offered in Richmond at Tradewinds Sailing Club. I called my good friend Joe who I knew would up for an adventure, and within a few weeks, we were signed up and sailing.

The certification was spread out over a period of about 3 months, and we had a blast. Sailing San Francisco Bay, grabbing beers at brewpubs in the evening between class and just hanging out being sailor dudes again. This course is what really turned the pages and got me thinking about "careers at sea" (or at least "on the water". At this point in my career as a business owner, I had no reason the explore a job on the water, but I knew in the back of my mind that I couldn't be a bike shop guy forever. At the very least, I knew that retirement might have me sailing tall ships for fun or even better yet, living on a large sailboat with "me lovely sailor bride"... :-). Still not sure at this point if Erin believes that living on a boat is going to exist in her future, but I'm slowly developing a plan that will ease her into the idea, even if its just for a few months.

So, Bareboat Skipper certification complete, Joe and I agreed to continue sailing as members of the sailing club and we chartered out a few boats throughout that year, bouncing around the bay whenever we could. I brought employees and friends out for sailing, and even let the kids take a day off from school so they too could be sailors in the Bay. We would typically hit Tiburon and tie up for lunch or coffee, then maybe pop over to Angel Island to look around. We had a few windy days that gave us some "white-knuckle"- do we have the skills for this?" Rides across the bay. We lived to sail another day.

That winter (Dec. 2010), Joe and I got invited to help a friend bring his 43' boat up from Oxnard to Richmond. "Hell yes we will go!", and we were soon on a train heading south for yet another Joe and Mike adventure. It was only a 3-day trip, that we ended up shortening due to favorable winds, but we had a good time, and again, I was able to solidify my passion for the water (despite getting hammered from high winds and a little sea-sickness).

So, I guess in retrospect, I have to really thank my wife for dangling that initial carrot in my eyes a few years back, for helping me get "feet wet" again. It was enough to start the gears in forward motion and get me thinking about other things out there. I really loved the bike industry, but it nowhere neared the amount of passion and enthusiasm I have for boats and waterways, nor the amount of childhood memories and experiences that I've had over the years. I've been around water on and off almost my entire life, so it definitely feels like a home coming.

I was telling my friend Melanie a few weeks back, that I've been having way more déjà vu's since I started this new path, and that it finally felt like I was back on the natural path.

Off to bed. Thanks honey!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tugboat Bootcamp

I joked around before leaving for this trip, telling my wife that I wanted to be the guy who implements a cross-fit style bootcamp workout plan aboard boats for those who are stuck on the water. Well, a few of us have been collaborating and squeezing in a few really good workouts on deck when the waters are calm. Tonight, we had three of us out there doing a bunch of fun and difficult routines. There was military press and curls with the 30lb shackles, shaking ropes off of the stern cleat, pull ups on the side of fidley, push ups, sit ups, and bench press using a 60lb shackle. Then we grabbed a large mallet and started taking turns beating up one of the lines that was wrapped around the H-bit. Awesome and creative workout, plus the three of us just had fun hanging out in the sunshine before dinner. It was a cool Sunday afternoon in the Bering Sea (Bristol Bay) while we waited for the the high tide and the entrance to Naknek. We swore that we would do this workout whenever the seas are calm enough for us to be on deck without getting slapped with waves. We also made a jump rope, and then made an even bigger jump rope out of 2" line that was essentially a workout just to spin.. After all that, we went in and played UFC on Xbox, had awesome BBQ ribs, corn on the cob and salad then hit our racks. Probably one of the best Sundays one could have in these parts of the world. An ice cold beer in there would have been nice, but there are rules against that.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dutch to Naknek

We pulled into Dutch Harbor on the 23rd and out around 17:30 on Wednesday the 24th. We essentially pulled in, worked until midnight, then got up at 8, busted the rest out, grabbed lunch at Amelia's, finalized the last few lash downs and pulled out. We had to hurry because the assist tug had another job to do and it was madness trying to meet the deadline. To top it off, we had to connect yet another barge in tandem for the trip to Naknek. It's fairly common, yet only a few folks on our boat have done a tandem tow, so there has been a few safety meetings and quick trainings.

At any rate, we began our trip to NakNek which is a few days northeast into Bristol Bay. It's Saturday now and we are waiting outside of the mouth of the Naknek river for the next high tide so that we can make safe passage up to the town. Apparently the water is really shallow and we need the highest tide possible in order to make it.

About an hour ago, we handed off the 2nd barge to the Malalo (another Dunlap towboat) and we are back to out normal load. The process of handing off a barge underway looks something like this. We slow down and reel in the closest barge, secure the tow bridle on deck. Then the other tug comes up and ties up to us on the port side. They then pass their tow wire over to us and we secure it to the tow bridle of the barge, then once everyone has given a thumbs up, we trip the pelican hook that holds the bridle and the entire chain and cable dump off the back in one loud dangerous move. If everything goes well, the other tug is now in control of the front barge and we untie and separate. If one things goes wrong, it can cost lives and or flip boats. Luckily, we have 2-3 people onboard (captain, chief engineer, mate) that had a clue and knew what to do. I assisted with safety lines in the bridle in case the main safety failed, but mostly the cook and myself watched and lent a hand when needed. All said and done, the whole process took about an hour from "call-out" to separation. Call-out is when the chief mate comes down and wakes you up and says "CALL OUT", wake up! Meeting in the pilothouse in 10 minutes". If you are off watch during call out, you immediately are on overtime, so most crew members don't mind it. If you're already on watch, sucks to be you.

So we wait. We will be out here dong large circle for about a day until the tide is right and winds are calm. I guess we are also gauging our entrance on the fact that the winds are supposed to pick up in a few hours to 30+ kts.

I'm back in my rack, trying to grab a few hours of shut-eye before my 2am watch, but its not working. I slept so much over the past 2 days that my body is rebelling. Why did I sleep so much over the past 2 days? Well, that's what you do out here on a tow boat in the middle of the Bring Sea. Plus, when the seas are nasty, it's the easiest way to get through it. Being awake and nauseous sucks... Asleep and nauseous? Not so bad. We are cruising on calm waters right now and I can't feel a ripple. We could easily be tied up in port and I wouldn't know the difference. The only thing that gives it away, is the large aircraft tires that are tied around the forward part of the rail. When the water hits them, they bang around a little and make noise. In nasty seas, it sounds like King Kong is outside the boat, beating on those same tires with a small tree, Did I mention that they are held onto the boat with chain and shackles? Oh yeah, it's a joy to listen to when hitting big waves. Not so much, especially when one's cabin is directly adjacent said tires. If I ever design my own tugboat, I will pay particular attention to tire placement and lashing arrangements... Nuff said. :-)

After Naknek, we are heading back to Dutch for fuel, and then the long trip back to Seattle. Having full fuel tanks across the Gulf of Alaska will also smooth the ride out a little. It's amazing what 129,000 gallons of fuel will do to a boat, although, a lower boat means that the tires I spoke of will be lower to the water and most likely more noisy. That's where the earplugs come in.... But if you miss a callout, your in trouble.. It's a wicked web we live at sea.

It's 23:00 (11pm for those who don't like math) and the sun just went down. Is kinda weird getting used to seeing light so late, but pretty cool at the same time.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Foreign Lands and Languages

I was lying in bed the other night, thinking about how wonderful it was to have a storm board next to my rack (bed). A storm board is simply a board that sticks in next to your mattress to keep you from rolling out of your rack in heavy seas. I then went on to think about all the nautical terms that we deal with on the water. Heads, galleys, starboard, port, forecastle, boatswain, bow, stern, amidships, keel strake, skuttlebutt, skupper, fathom, lazerette, fantail and the list goes on for days. I started to wonder a little about the history of some of these terms and the "why" of the vocabulary, but without any Internet search capabilities at the time, I decided to come up with my own theory. Let me know what you think. My wife gives me a hard time because I have a couple theories here and there that I standby... 1. Wearing hats makes your bald, and 2. Regular Lotion keeps your skin moist and helps against sunburn. 3. There's a private underground company out there that helps musicians/stars fake their deaths when they get too overwhelmed with stardom.. (John Denver, Jim Croce, Elvis, Marilyn, Jim Morrison, Whitney, etc.... they are all still alive! I know I know... But why not have some fun theories to create controversy. :-).

When humans started to explore the seas and few days back, it was as if they were stepping onto a new un-inhabited land. The land of water. It had no language, and it had no people except for those brave soles venturing out to exploring it. We decided that this new land needed its own language like most other countries, so we soon developed words to explain things that had never been dealt with on land. The people, called "mariners" were part of this new "country" and they created their own language. We could have easily called a galley a kitchen, but why not have a cool fancy name instead, so be it. These new countrymen soon had their own language, their own rituals, folklore and traditions and history.

I love that some of the terms are spelled one way, yet pronounced completed different. Boatswain=" Bozun", Forecastle="Folksole" and that there are no ropes on a boat, just lines. A rope graduates to "line" status once it steps foot on a boat. I found some really good old salty vocabulary in "2 Years Before The Mast" (great book), and learned that hot tea was referred to by sailors as "Water Bewitched" back in "the day", and that "Soggering" is essentially "looking busy" but not really accomplishing much.

Some people believe in certain maritime superstitions, and I do as well, mostly for the sake of tradition. For instance, whistling on a boat is considered by many to be bad luck. Bananas, cats and even women were at one time considered to be bad luck on a boat. Black duffle bags and leaving port on Friday are considered by some to still be bad luck.

We've grown to accept many of these traditions and have also attempted to abide by numerous rules and laws in an attempt to create safer, and cleaner waters. Most people don't realize it, but its ok to dump trash at sea at a given point off shore. There are certain things that are never thrown over... chemicals, oils, fuels and plastics being the big no no's.

So, next time you step out onto the water, keep in mind that you are basically entering a whole different world. Ask questions about "why" things are called what they are. A good mariner will have answers about many of these wonderful terms. Many things on the water have really cool stories behind them that date back thousands of years. Port and Starboard for instance, used to be "Larboard" and Starboard, but they found that in noisy conditions, they sounded too alike. Since many of the boats would unload their cargo on the Larboard side of the boat in port, they would also refer to that side of the boat as the Port side, and soon they just referred to the left side of the boat as the Port side instead. If you have trouble remembering port and starboard, just remember that port and "left" both have four letters. Plus, port wine is red, so it's easy to remember that the left navigation light is red, the right is green.

I love being on the water because it's peaceful, but the rich history, traditions and crazy folklore is what lures me here. To belong to this odd group of people/countrymen is something that runs in your blood. Luckily for me, I was raised around the water and it comes naturally to me. Millions of people in the world will never have the opportunities that I've had to understand and be apart of this crazy land. For that alone, I feel grateful and privileged. I hope that somewhere along the line, someone who hasn't been around the water, will come across my ramblings and find some sort of inspiration that leads to some wetland exploration. Being out in the a large vast open pool of water really puts the rest of the earth into perspective.

That's all for now. My storm boards and I have a date.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The "10-minute Cruise"

We finalized cargo around 2:30-3am this morning and the cargo guys basically shoved us off into the bay. The tugs came up, grabbed us, took us out and helped us "make tow" (connecting our tug to the towing bridle). Once we got everything set up, the harbor tugs released and sent us on our way. 10 minutes later, as we were putting away tools, I noticed smoke in the engine room. I yelled up to the Chief Engineer, who was still busy tightening the brake on the winch. He came down and descended into the smoky abyss with a nasty look on his face. We ventilated the smoke and he determined that we smoked the clutch in gear reduction on the starboard main engine. Apparently a throttle sensor had gone bad, and was "fixed" but not good enough. We called the harbor tugs back out, they hooked up with the barge and a few hours later, we were tied back up.

Tied back up in Anchorage...

After securing everything and powering down our remaining engine, a few of us gathered in the galley for a breakfast of epic proportion. We cooked: Eggs Benedict, hash browns infused with cheese and bacon, biscuits and gravy, bacon, fried eggs and ham steaks and of course fresh coffee. By the time I got in my rack, it was about 7:30-8am and I managed to squeeze off 5+ hours of solid coma sleep.

Now, we wait. The company is flying in the main engineer from Washington to assist the chief in the repair endeavor. We won't know until later tonight what our next step is. Probably needing to overnight some parts, but most likely going to be here another day or two, three, etc...

I'm going to go test out my new DVD player and get spooked while watching "the strangers"... :-)


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Working Cargo"

We arrived in Anchorage Monday morning at the crack of dawn and immediately (literally as soon as the lines were tossed) started loosening turnbuckles on anything that had an Anchorage tag. We busted butt all day until the tide dropped and the barge sat on the bottom. The tides are drastic up here and the big forklifts can't drive onto the barge when it sits on the bottom. So, we would work for 5 or so hours in the morning, then come back at night and work from 9pm-1am or longer until the tides drop again. Yesterday we worked till about 3pm, the came back at 9:30 and worked until 2am, got up and did it all again. Tonight, our work should finish re-loading and lashing down the containers and we will get underway as soon as everything is done. We should be haze-grey and underway by 4am if all goes well.

Working on a barge at night in sub 30 temps, with 3 monster forklifts and containers the size of small houses is amazing and terrifying all at once. The forklift will drive onto the barge with a container, and we will attach the chains to it before he raises it to its spot, (sometimes 5 containers tall) and puts it in place. After that, we attach the chains to the deck via turnbuckles and shackles. It's a fast process, not terribly hard, but it does work the body pretty good. The long chains are probably 60+ lbs and we have to move them around across the barge 100 times/night. We make "cargo pay" for helping, so it's all worth it in the end, but draining.

Barge sitting in the mud.
Cargo crew


Tonight, we got off work, went for Sushi and are about to get 3-4 hours of sleep before starting up again. Once we get back out to sea, we can rest and get caught up. I definitely looking forward to some more downtime.

Off to bed.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

GOA Weight Loss Plan

6 days underway and the last few have been less than pleasant. We had some nasty seas on Saturday night with 40-50 kt winds, which sent me in a downward spiral. I put on a Scopamine patch, but it didnt really seem to help at that point. We pulled out into the Gulf of Alaska to begin our leg towards Anchorage and were hit with nasty headwinds and big swells. I was already feeling a little noxious, so needless to say, it got worse. 3 days into the middle of the Gulf and I'm finally starting to find some balance between head and ear. I went 3 days having only a few crackers, a Clif builder bar and maybe a piece of ham. Sucks. I've been sea sick before, but never for more than 2 days. Last night, I made the decision to forego any motion sickness pills/patches and just deal with it, and its helped quite a bit. Tonight I ate a normal dinner and I haven't been sick in 24 hours. The seas are supposed to pick up later, so we will see if I've adapted or not. I think I've lost at least 5-8 lbs in the past 5 days.

We've been keeping busy by painting, cleaning, doing maintenance on immersion suits etc. I found that if I sit by the back door of the fidley (the small room off of the aft deck) I can get fresh air and see the waves, which helps me feel great. So, I have been finding things to work on in the fidley while on watch. For the past 2 nights, I have sanded, painted, sharpened and labeled every hand tool we have. Mostly hammers, axes, peavies, bolt cutters. Everything is looking good and shiny. Then today, Dan and I painted the workbench and vise in the fidley. I also braided all new lines for the safety clips that are used on the pelican hooks, just busy work. Hopefully tomorrow I'm ok with doing inside jobs because I'm running out of projects back there. The AB's clean constantly, so I get to clean the heads, sweep and mop, take out trash, empty the slop buckets overboard and check on the engines every hour. There's a few holding areas for sea water (Eco ballasts) that fill up and we have to operate a pump every few hours to empty them. Nothing is hard... Unless you're having to stop and get sick every hour. :-)

The temps have dropped considerably and we are getting snow off and on. Tonight is supposed to get colder and the winds are supposed to pickup. It's pretty cool so watch the snow whizz past the deck flood lights with the black background at night.

The guys have been easy on me about the seasickness. The 3rd mate told me the he gets sick now and then and that I shouldn't worry about it. Just stay hydrated he says. I do my job as normal, just plugging away and trying to keep it from slowing me down.

No cell service for a few days now, but as we get closer to Anchorage, that should change and this will get posted. Really missing the family and need to hear their voices. This Saturday will be 5 weeks since I've seen them... Feels like 10.

Off to bed.


Haze Grey and Underway

Thursday evening, I packed up the majority of my belongings from where I'm staying, did some laundry, called the family and got ready to ship out. I must have had "late coffee" because by the time I was tired and off to bed, it was midnight. Needless to say, Friday morning came really early. I was asked to be at Dunlap at 09:00, but I had a few stops to make along the way and elected to leave the house at 07:00, which gave me plenty of time. I got to the yard at 08:00 and waited around for a while before sticking my head in the door at the main office.

After meeting some folks in the office, the port captain told me to go ahead and take my stuff onboard the Polar Endurance and find my cabin, so I did. I was immediately greeted by the chief mate and some of the repair guys who were prepping the boat for departure. The cook arrived, took inventory and headed to Safeway to pick up everything that was ordered from the night before, plus some other times. We literally had a flatbed full of food, enough to fill 2 pallets, which we promptly craned over to the ship and shoved into the galley. The rest of the crew slowly trickled in and once everyone was there, our captain called a meeting on the bridge to talk about roles, safety and the trip in general. We pulled in the lines and headed south towards Seattle around 13:00.

We got into Seattle around 16:00 and grabbed about 50,000 gal of fuel to top off the tanks. This took about 3 hours, so I helped the cook organize the galley and put all the food stores away. We have enough snack food to entertain a couple elementary schools worth of kids for at least a week or two. The freezer is packed with just about every type of meat, ice cream, frozen veggies, fruits, etc. I will be amazed if I return from this trip having not added at least 10 lbs, which probably isn't a bad thing.

After fuel, we moved over to where our barge was tied up on a buoy. The AB (Dan, who incidentally brought his Xbox and is itching to do some gaming with me) climbed aboard and began the process of handing over the cable that pulled up the towing bridle. After a few head scratching moments and untangling, we got it all connected (about an hour process) and a few more of us including myself, climbed aboard the barge to check tie-downs and secure the mooring lines. The barge is about 300' and has containers stacked 5 high all the way around. There are boats, trucks, schoolbus, machinery, a house (yes, a prefabricated building) all tied down on top of this barge. It's quite impressive to look at, and kinda freaky as well. There's about 10 miles of chain zig zagging back and forth holding everything down to the pad eyes.

Once everything was checked, we climbed back aboard the tug, pulled the lines, flipped around and took off.

We've been steaming north since last night pretty quietly, towing at about 6-7 knots I. The cook made up a pot roast for dinner, and a gooey-goodness casserole for breakfast and BACON on the side. I'll be standing a 2-6 watch both am and pm, overlapping with the AB and the chief mate so that I get enough time in both the deck/engine room, and the pilot house. So far, so good and everything is going as planned. I got up early for watch today because I had a slight headache and didnt want to just lay there and suffer, so I've been hanging out in the galley, playing ipad games and chatting with all the crew as they trickle in and out. Dinner is prepared by the cook, but we are free to grab anything and everything and anytime. You want ice cream and shrimp for breakfast, no problem. I'll stick to my grape nuts, thanks. :-)

The crew is all really cool and approachable. It's only been one day, but I've gotten to know them all fairly quickly and I get the feeling that they are "cool with the new guy". Hopefully we all get along, crammed into this small space for 30+ days. I think I will be good, but time will tell. Everyone has their preferences and it takes time to figure them out, for instance... I'm fairly certain that the Chief Mate likes being in the bridge alone. He doesn't talk much and when the end of my watch comes around, he will typically be the first to say "looks like your off watch"... Okey dokey, heading to bed. The other Mate likes to sleep as much as possible when he's off and is cold blooded on the bridge, so he keeps the windows and doors opened. I'm figuring them out, and its kinda fun solving the social puzzle.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lifeboatman Course

Since I have everything except LB to get my AB ticket, I went ahead and took the LB class this week since I had a few days to kill before shipping out. Today we practiced launching the lifeboat off the davits about 6x in a row. US Coast Guard required each person to safely launch a lifeboat within 15 minutes, and so far everyone is well within the time allotment. The boat we are using is a 2000lb old-school rowboat, with no motor. The Davit itself is designed to hold a larger boat, something in the range of 5000lbs and much longer I believe. We have to learn all the lifeboat terminology: Guy lines, Frapping lines, Griping lines, Tricing pendant, Sea Painter, Harbor pins, and much more... It's maritime, and therefore, it's fun. Call me crazy. Tomorrow, we have to row a lifeboat and demonstrate our rowing capabilities as per Coast Guard requirements.

Lifeboat Davit

If you wanna watch something fun, check out FreeFall Lifeboat systems. They are designing quick deploy lifeboats now that launch off the stern of ships without any lines or gravity systems. It's similar to amusement park ride in my opinion. Here's one that breaks a FreeFall record in a test from the manufacturer. Pretty crazy ride, especially if full of 20 crew members!

FreeFall lifeboat

I'll post up another tidbit around Friday after completion of the course and before I ship out on Friday or Saturday.